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White Feminists Keep Denying Black Women's Humanity

“Women” almost always means white women, and rarely ever includes Black women.

First off, a question: bitch what the fuck?

Anyone who still uses this quote at this point is woefully inadequate to speak on systemic oppression in any capacity, because its very usage demonstrates an utter lack of understanding of how oppressions operate and how they impact people. I find it interesting how so many white people’s instinct when making their points about social injustice that affects them (real or imagined) is almost always to compare it to oppressions created by white supremacist patriarchy, especially anti-Black oppressions – and by interesting, I mean abhorrent. The same is often true of non-Black people of color. They use the anti-Blackness that they benefit from as a frame of reference to talk about what they see as an injustice against them. It’s an ugly pattern.

Rose McGowan tweeted this shit a year ago in response to unsavory jokes about Harvey Weinstein’s sexual predation and got her ass handed to her, but I guess Bette Midler wasn’t paying attention. When she tweeted her shitty contribution to The Discourse last week, many people, Black women especially, immediately spoke up to let her know why it was wrong on multiple levels. Her supporters, white women of course, quickly moved to educate Black women on the fact that Midler was merely quoting John Lennon. And even more came forward to inform us that “No, actually, she was quoting Yoko Ono” via a John Lennon lyric. As if Black women don’t already know this information after having heard white “progressives” repeat it over and over again since 1972 and reading it on their ugly protest signs. As if the fact that she was quoting a white man and/or a non-Black woman somehow made it better or excusable.

Midler quoted a lyric sung by John Lennon, written by Yoko Ono, who misappropriated it from Zora Neale Hurston by removing it entirely from its original context about Black women’s labor. We know exactly what the quote is and we know exactly what its implications are, in this context and every context.

It’s non-Black people attempting to compare non-Black womanhood to the experiences of Black people, trying to survive in an anti-Black world that continually dehumanizes us. An anti-Black world in which Black women have historically been and still are expected to labor for white supremacist, capitalist, and Black patriarchal interests — emotional, intellectual, physical, sexual, and reproductive labor, all while suffering abuses within these same realms, and more.

In Zora Neale Hurston’s novel, “Their Eyes Were Watching God”, Nanny says to Janie, “Honey, de white man is de ruler of everything as fur as Ah been able tuh find out. Maybe it’s some place way off in de ocean where de black man is in power, but we don’t know nothin’ but what we see. So de white man throw down de load and tell de nigger man tuh pick it up. He pick it up because he have to, but he don’t tote it. He hand it to his womenfolks. De nigger woman is de mule ud de world so fur as Ah can see.” It was a clear explanation of how white supremacy and Black patriarchy work to ultimately subjugate Black women through misogynoir, and how that leaves us bearing immeasurable burdens.

Let’s be very clear here. When the likes of Yoko Ono, Bette Midler, and Rose McGowan separate “women” from Blackness/the “n-word”, they are positioning womanhood as an identity that Black people are not allowed to hold in the same way as non-Black people, if at all. Black women are never included in their understandings of womanhood because the historical precedent was long ago set to categorize us as non-human, animalistic, inferior, and unable to lay claim to the class of woman that deserved protections. Black women are continually denied our womanhood as well as our humanity, even or especially in white feminist rhetoric. “Women” almost always means white women, and rarely ever includes Black women.

All of this illustrates my frustration with “The Handmaid’s Tale” and its implications, excavating the history of sexual and reproductive violences against enslaved Black women and applying them to white women in a dystopian future, conceiving of the story as if it is something that is only a possible future rather than an ugly past. Even its author Margaret Atwood said, “Everything I wrote in that book was happening at that time, or had already happened. It just wasn’t happening in America.” For her, these violences were only visible or legible on white women’s bodies.

It’s interesting how white women so easily draw these parallels and make attempts at analogies as a way to understand and conceptualize sexual violence against white women — and by interesting, I mean telling. It’s almost as if Atwood, McGowan, Midler, and their defenders recognize the racial-sexual terror that white supremacy has historically subjected Black people to, especially women, and how that racial-sexual terror has worked to pedestal other women, especially white women, even as they experience sexual violence themselves. They continue to separate “women” from Blackness because the truth is that white supremacy isn’t supposed to treat white women the way it has treated Blackness and Black women. That is the abomination they see here.

For Midler to first tweet the offensive quote, then respond with this explanation and then tell us that it’s “not about race” is one of the purest forms of patronizing, whitesplaining, gaslighting, and dog whistle aggression I’ve ever witnessed. It centers her feelings over the anti-Blackness she displayed, it attempts to remove herself from responsibility and accountability for her words, and it blatantly lies about the overt racial implications apparent in not only the quote she used but also in the words she chose to support it. After this doubling down backfired, she issued a non-apology, citing her rage at the Kavanaugh investigations as her reason for insulting Black women everywhere, before finally devolving into a line reminiscent of Miss Millie’s “I’ve always been good to you people!” line.

The quote was atrocious when Yoko Ono wrote it for John Lennon to sing in 1972, and it’s still fucking terrible, and Black women have every reason to upset at the fact that white women keep trying to use it to their own benefit. Bette Midler has absolutely no excuse for living all these years of life, with all of her access and all of her feminist postering, and still not understanding that white women will never be “niggers” in this world.



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Sherronda (she/they) is an essayist, editor, and storyteller writing pop culture and media analysis through a Black feminist lens with historical and cultural context. They often find themselves transfixed by Black monstrosity, survival, and resistance in the horror genre and its many fantastical narratives, especially zombie lore. Read more of their work at Black Youth Project.

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